“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us ? that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” -Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg, 1863.
As rescuers continue to pull dead bodies from the wreckage in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, we find there is none without a story.
There are rescue workers who rushed into the burning towers in New York, only to be engulfed seconds later in steel and stone. There is the chaplain administering last rites to a fatally wounded firefighter, only to perish himself under the rubble. There are the heroic passengers of United Flight 93 who, upon learning of the tragedy at the World Trade Center, fought back in the face of certain death and refused to allow more innocent lives to be lost on the ground.
But these tales of heroism have their price, for it is easy to become demoralized at the loss of such selfless people for such a needless cause. Family members and all Americans – indeed, most of the world – have become disheartened
But it does not have to be that way.
Last spring, I wrote a column in which I accused the new president of following the footsteps of his two post-Cold War predecessors by failing to define a Greater National Purpose after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Only now, in the aftermath of those gut-wrenching attacks, do I realize my criticism was misguided. We do not need a Greater National Purpose but a global one, one in which the short-sighted self-interest of every nation is sacrificed for worldwide good, and all nations realize that the well-being of their neighbors is inevitably tied to their own.
In most of our lifetimes we’ve never seen a better opportunity. Many refer to President Bush as the leader of the free world. Now is the time to prove it.
This cannot be proven by a mere “attack on terrorism” – the discovery and execution of those involved in planning the suicide missions. Nor can it be proven by cooperating with the nations of the world on this effort alone, in soliciting and taking their help on this operation. Bush could not prove it by capturing the terrorists himself, marching into their camp and eliminating them and their potential for evil, one by one.
He must prove it by looking beyond. He must respond to the attacks not only by embarking on America’s War on Terrorism but also by laying the foundation for a truly global community.
The potential has never been greater. The worldwide outpouring of support for the United States has never been stronger; world leaders have never been so ready to cooperate. Britain has called this terrorist attack on America an attack on all democracies. NATO has considered it an attack on the alliance as a whole. Russia, still overcoming the memory of the Cold War, has offered its support. Even Iran, a nation that brought America into crisis itself by taking diplomatic hostages in 1979, expressed its outrage at this terrorist action.
This multinational coalition has encircled the terrorist groups, and no doubt many will be brought to justice in the months ahead. There has been cooperation at an unprecedented level, with many nations providing much-needed intelligence and investigation. Leaders around the world recognize the best interest of the United States in this matter parallels their own best interest, their own security.
But it is in the interest of everyone to extend this teamwork to more than just
anti-terrorist measures. The loss of life due to this insecurity has been a tragedy. But it may be just as tragic if these nations limit their cooperation only to fighting crime. We may “win” a global War on Terrorism, but there are other wars yet to be fought – wars on disease, poverty, pollution, famine and oppression. These battles are just as vital to security as a war on terrorism, for only when the world unites for common good can the towering flames of violent bitterness and hatred truly be extinguished.
Perhaps in asking them to put aside nationalistic goals for global ones, I require too much of our world’s leaders. Perhaps it is an idealistic dream, a utopian vision for a world still rooted in harsh reality.
But in hearing the stories of heroism on that day, the day we entered a new world, I know it can be done. In seeing the true, benevolent human nature in the form of those who thoughtlessly risked and gave their lives so that others might have the chance to live, there is new hope. It is a hope grounded in the principles of selflessness and cooperation, a hope that all nations and peoples of the world can follow the example of these heroes and come together for the cause of greater good.
And only then, when they can see the people of the world unite in mutual understanding and charity, will the spirits of those heroic victims be able to look down from Heaven and say with conviction, “We did not die in vain.”